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|The forces of community|
Harnessing the forces around you your community is
Harvard Business Review
The Dreamers, the Doers, and the Incrementalists
Seldom Is Anything Accomplished Alone
YOUR CAPACITY TO organize and execute is only the first of three ingredients in the pursuit of making ideas happen. The humbling truth is that ideas are not made to happen through solitary genius or ingenuity. As our exploration of the forces of community will illustrate, other people always play a role in pushing your ideas forward.
It is no surprise that ideas gain new dimensions when other people get involved.
Concepts are more quickly refined, holes in logic more quickly exposed. As you engage others in your projects, you become accountable for being productive and following through. The forces of community help you capitalize on feedback, stay nimble, and share the burden of execution.
Your success will depend on how well you harness the efforts of others. As you will see in the chapters ahead, you must be proactive in identifying who your community includes, and how to engage diverse groups of people with different perspectives. With thoughtful stewardship, your community will become the ultimate platform for your ideas.
^ all around you—your team, mentors, clients or customers, collaborators, and of course your family and friends. Your community will seldom understand your idea in the beginning, but it will help make it real in the end. Every idea has constituents—members of your community who hold a stake. It is your job to engage and make use of your idea’s constituents.
Those with a track record for gaining traction around their ideas are especially good at harnessing the forces of community. However, there is a common hesitation to embrace such forces. The creative process can feel tainted once you introduce the opinions and influence of others. Artists are famous for their spiteful relationships with critics, some going so far as to insist that they don’t create their work for anyone in particular—as if the enjoyment of their work by others is simply a by-product of their brilliance. Similarly, entrepreneurs often struggle to incorporate feedback and build lasting partnerships in their endeavors.
The process of creation is deeply consuming and lined with narcissism. We fall in love with our ideas and become both certain and protective. We forget to spend time on articulating (and marketing) our ideas, we become less receptive to criticism, and our ideas stagnate in isolation. As we dig deep within ourselves, we lose the ability to tune into the needs and sensitivities of others—an awareness that is required for our ideas to thrive.
As we share our ideas with our communities, we receive feedback and support. We may also encourage competitors who may, at first, scare us, but who will ultimately serve to make us work harder.
While I have based my assertions about the power of communal forces on the knowledge gathered from hundreds of one-on-one interviews, a growing body of scientific research in social networks also supports the importance of community — particularly in relation to productivity and success.
An article in the February 2009 issue of the ^ cited a recent MIT study showing that employees with the most extensive personal online networks were 7 percent more productive than their colleagues, and those with the most cohesive face-to-face networks were 30 percent more productive. Clearly, our respective communities—both online and offline—play a critical role in helping us refine our ideas, stay focused, and execute to completion. In this section, we will explore how to best leverage the positive forces that community can offer.
We all have someone in our lives who is a perpetual dreamer—someone with real talent who never seems to get his or her act together. Frank (not his real name) is a master carpenter with a love for his craft that started very early on in Croatia, where he apprenticed in the art of carpentry. He came to New York City with no more than his raw skill and desire to use it, independently, to build great pieces of carpentry—closets, shelves, and the like—for his clients.
When you talk to Frank about what he envisions on any particular project, his eyes light up. In his broken English, he will conjure up some carefully selected words to describe the fine details. “This is to be very special—you will like the fine edge, the touch...” And he will go on and on about the wood, and his plans, and what he might do after that. Jobs never have a scope. For Frank, every job is simply a milestone in his rampant creative journey to design and build masterpieces of carpentry.
Frank’s clients recognize his brilliance, but they all complain about the same things.
His jobs are never completed on time. Something always comes up. Although he always has an endearing way of explaining the constant delays, it’s clear that his lack of follow through is the real problem. The projects he completes are all stunning, but they are few and far between.
Frank is a Dreamer—a member of one of the three broad categories of creative we’ve consistently found in our research: the Dreamers, the Doers, and the polymaths who we call the Incrementalists. The world is full of aspiring entrepreneurs, struggling writers, and passionate artists like Frank who have the gift of endless creativity and who are eternally challenged by it.
Dreamers like Frank are always generating new ideas. As entrepreneurs, Dreamers often jump from one new business idea to another. Even within an existing business, they are always imagining something new. I’ve met a number of creative directors in the world of advertising who insist that it is someone else’s job to keep them organized and focused, while they are simply supposed to generate ideas—to dream. The Dreamers in the not-for-profit world are idealists—and they are likely to become engaged in new projects at the expense of completing current ones. Similarly, Dreamer artists are always starting new projects, often considering massive undertakings with a long-term grandiose vision.
Dreamers are fun to be around, but they struggle to stay focused. In their idea frenzy, they are liable to forget to return phone calls, complete current projects, even pay the rent. While Dreamers are more likely than anyone to conceive of brilliant solutions, they are less likely to follow through. Some of the most successful Dreamers we have met attribute their success to a partnership with a Doer.
Doers don’t imagine as much because they are obsessively focused on the logistics of execution. Doers get frustrated when, while brainstorming, there is no consideration for implementation. Doers often love new ideas, but their tendency is to immerse themselves in the next steps needed to truly actualize an idea. While Dreamers will quickly fall in love with an idea, Doers will start with doubt and chip away at the idea until they love it (or, often, discount it). As Doers break an idea down, they become actionoriented organizers and valuable stewards. An idea can only become a reality once it is broken down into organized, actionable elements. If a brilliant and sexy idea seems intangible or unrealistic, Doers will become skeptical and appropriately deterred.
Then there are the Incrementalists—those with the ability to play the role of both Dreamer and Doer. Incrementalists shift between distinct phases of dreaming and doing. When imagination runs amok in the Dreamer phase, the Incrementalist begins to feel impatient. The developing sense of impatience brings on the Doer phase, and the idea at hand is pushed into execution. And when the time comes to pull back and dream again, the return is a welcome relief from being buried in the managerial mind-set. Thus, an Incrementalist is able to bask in idea generation, distill the Action Steps needed, and then push ideas into action with tenacity.
You might be thinking that becoming an Incrementalist is the Holy Grail for making ideas happen. The transformative capacity of the Incrementalist appears attractive until you consider the inherent limitations. With the ability to rapidly develop and then execute ideas, the Incrementalist finds him- or herself leading multiple projects (and, in many cases, multiple businesses) simultaneously.
One great Incrementalist we met along the way is Jeff Staple, founder of the firm Staple Design, owner of the New York retail store and gallery Reed Space, fashion designer of his own clothing line, and brand strategist for clients like Nike and Burton.
Staple’s extraordinary breadth of ventures has earned him tremendous respect. He is an exceptional creative thinker with the rare ability to slip in and out of organization and execution mode throughout the day. But as we spoke about his accomplishments, Staple became contemplative, questioning whether his was the best route to realizing his full potential.
“I love the fact that we do so many different things,” he explained, “and it keeps me excited and I wouldn’t change it, actually. But I do question sometimes whether, if I had just done the gallery or just the clothing line or the design studio or the store for the past twelve years, where would that piece be today? Maybe we’d have thirty stores now and maybe I’d be retiring in South Beach.”
Incrementalists have the tendency to conceive and execute too many ideas simply because they can. This rare capability can lead to an overwhelming set of responsibilities to maintain multiple projects at the expense of ever making one particular project an extraordinary success. In my research, I came across many Incrementalists who were known within their communities for their many projects but never on a global scale. The Incrementalist’s brands, products, and ideas are seldom sufficiently pushed to their full potential.
While a Doer and a Dreamer are best paired with each other, Incrementalists can thrive when they are paired with either one. Incrementalists are the “O” blood type of the world of collaboration—the universal donor. After talking to many Incrementalists about their most successful projects, I found that they just need to be pushed one way or the other. A Doer will push the Incrementalist into more of a Dreamer mode when necessary, while a Dreamer brings out the Incrementalist’s impatience and organizational Doer-like tendencies.
As we examine the history of spectacular creations and the leaders behind these accomplishments, some obvious examples of Doers, Dreamers, and Incrementalists stand out. Bill Bowerman, the former track coach who developed Nike’s running shoes, partnered with Phil Knight to transform his vision into a business. In the leadership of Apple, one might call Jonathan Ive (chief designer), Tim Cook (chief operating officer), and Steve Jobs (chief executive officer) Dreamer, Doer, and Incrementalist, respectively.
In the world of fashion, the Dreamer Calvin Klein had Barry Schwartz, Ralph Lauren had Roger Farah, and Marc Jacobs had Robert Duffy—three fashion visionaries paired with a world-class Doer as a partner.
And so, there is no ideal category. The Doers, Dreamers, and Incrementalists all have their own strengths and limitations. However, once you consider which type you might be, you can leverage the forces around you—potential partnerships, organizational tools, and other resources—that can make all the difference.
Understanding the tendencies of Doers, Dreamers, and Incrementalists is the first step to establishing lasting partnerships and collaborations.
We all have strengths and weaknesses as creators, and we tend to assume that we are bound to work within those parameters (“I’m just not an organized person,” “I’m not good at managing clients,” etc.). From our discussion of the tendencies of Doers, Dreamers, and Incrementalists, we see how everyone can benefit from a partner who acts as a foil and a complement.
If you work in isolation as a Dreamer, your ideas will swiftly come and go without accountability and stimulation from others. As a Doer, you may struggle to come up with new ideas and solutions in favor of becoming mired in the details. As an Incrementalist, you will likely conceive of and execute a raft of projects that eventually sputter and grow stagnant, short of their true reach. No matter which type you fall into, developing meaningful partnerships will make you more effective.
Of course, we’ve all heard horror stories of partnerships gone sour. These typically result from mismatched personality types or too much similarity of skill sets. For instance, a collaboration between two Dreamers might result in a project that’s long on idea generation and short on actual execution, while a partnership among Doers can quickly become straight-ahead execution and organization without the vision and spontaneity required for breakthroughs. Partnerships must be formed carefully. But, when they work, ideas can flourish on a much larger scale.
There are many famous long-term partnerships between Doers and Dreamers that have yielded extraordinary results. One such partnership is between Jeffrey Kalmikoff and Jake Nickell, the co-founders of the online T-shirt design community known as Threadless. Starting in the year 2000, Kalmikoff and Nickell grew Threadless from a small side project into a $35 million business.
The partnership worked because Kalmikoff is a Dreamer and Nickell is a Doer.
During the preparatory phase for Behance’s first annual 99% Conference in 2009, I had the occasion to listen in as the two explained their relationship. “I’m always on to something new,” Kalmikoff said. “I’ll think of ideas for new businesses within our business every day. Jake keeps us on track and reins me in. Without Jake, we’d have nothing.”
Throughout the conversation that ensued, Kalmikoff talked off the cuff, jumping from anecdote to idea to anecdote without always following a clear narrative. When his points weren’t clear, Nickell would step in to refine or summarize them, keeping the narrative on track. Their contrasting conversation styles were a microcosm of their working relationship. Kalmikoff, a self-proclaimed “firehose of ideas,” kept the company infused with momentum and spontaneity through a rapid flow of potential innovations, while Nickell sifted through the proposed projects, helped focus the team on which ones made the most sense, and laid the groundwork for execution. As the Threadless partnership illustrates, Doers and Dreamers fit well together. They are seldom threatened by each other because of their very different strengths.
While some people like to find a single partner and stick with them for the long haul, many other successful entrepreneurs and creatives—particularly entrepreneurs who are constantly shifting amidst disparate fields (from magazine publishing to e-commerce, for example)—seek out partners on a project basis, weighing complementary expertise as much as personality type and working style. One such man is Roger Bennett.
Bennett is both an idealist and a grounded serial social entrepreneur with a remarkable track record. He hails from the same English town as the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a. “Borat,” and has a similarly gutsy, no-holds-barred approach to his line of work: the Jewish not-for-profit world. He has committed himself to investigating questions around culture and identity. Bennett loves ideas that, though they might strike everyone as crazy at first, seem obvious when they actually happen.
Bennett has founded a variety of culturally potent works with the sole purpose of strengthening a sense of Jewish identity in young people. If you are a brilliant creative professional and happen to be Jewish, you have likely come in contact with Bennett or one of his projects: The Reboot Network of influential people in media and entertainment; the books Bar Mitzvah Disco and Camp Camp ; Guilt & Pleasure magazine; and the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, the record label of remixed Jewish music from previous eras that is behind the critically acclaimed Yiddish-Latin culture infusion Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos.
For every project, Bennett finds himself a partner. Partnerships are so important to him that he doesn’t pursue an idea until he identifies the right partner. Bennett’s project partners have all been great complements to his personality and Dreamer tendencies.
On his various film projects, he has paired himself with grounded producers focused on the bottom line. When writing his books, he has found partners with both organizational skills and a strong familiarity with the publishing world. When starting organizations —something he has done multiple times—he has joined forces with action-oriented professionals comfortable managing large groups of people. Bennett knows his weaknesses and strengths and is always on the lookout for others with similar interests but different skill sets. He frequents several spots throughout New York City where he constantly meets with people who fit these criteria—usually over a drink after work.
These casual conversations with like-minded individuals serve as Roger’s breeding ground for partnerships.
Then there are the partners that you hire—people you engage to complement a specific weakness. Over the years, I have observed perpetual Dreamers who only “made it” once they hired a real Doer whose job was to serve as a partner in creative pursuits. In the world of independent creative professionals, we often call these partners “agents.” Many of the most well-known actors, designers, and photographers have agents—and they credit their agents with the balance and career momentum they have achieved.
While researching partnerships, I had the opportunity in 2009 to speak with the well known twenty-four-year-old graphic artist Chuck Anderson, and then, separately, his business representative Erik Attkisson. If you haven’t heard of Anderson, it is likely that you have seen his work—he has been working with clients like Nike, Adidas, Microsoft, Honda, Nokia, and Vans since he was a teenager. In 2008, after a recommendation from his good friend and colleague Joshua Davis, Anderson decided to retain Attkisson’s services. Handling the bulk of new business development tasks, Attkisson fields client inquiries, manages scheduling, and thinks about Anderson’s career in the long term as well as the day to day.
Although Anderson had previously been handling the business side of things competently enough, bringing Attkisson into the fold freed him up to focus intently on the creative side of his work. But the decision to work with someone else still required some soul-searching. “It had been only me,” Anderson said, “exclusively me, doing my work for the last four-and-a-half years.” Ultimately, it was the appeal of scalability that made ceding some control seem sensible to Anderson. “I thought, maybe it’s time to give it a shot working with somebody else just to see how I can push things forward and take things to another level. I decided that I didn’t want to be just Chuck Anderson the freelancer for the rest of my life.”
Partners are just the first of many constituencies to consider as you develop your ideas. They don’t have to be financial partners or equal partners. Partners are there to complement your capabilities and rein in your tendencies. Once you select your key partners, you will want to think more broadly about other individuals—and groups—to engage with your ideas.
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